“Nigga gotta hit the golf course to get a piece of mind”—this is more or less the thesis of ScHoolboy Q’s fifth studio album CrasH Talk. Last year, Q became inhabited by the spirit of Old Tom Morris and started playing golf at Calabasas Country Club “five to six times per week” to escape the tedium and pressures of the studio. “I came up with half my new album while I was playing,” he told Golf Digest. “They have no idea how the game opened up my mind. I was in a dark place, and golf got me inspired again.” While he has described CrasH Talk as a dive into the chapter of his life when he found lasting success as a rapper and relocated from Los Angeles’ South Central district to the suburbs, in truth he splits time revelling in the spoils of victory, dwelling on his lingering drug dependencies and depression, and telling decade-old stories from the height of his gangbanging days.
Though CrasH Talk contains a few moments of brilliance, it is easily the flattest album in Q’s catalogue; it lacks the expansive, nostalgic haze and conceptual ambition of Q’s 2016 widescreen opus Blank Face LP, it fails to rekindle his penchant for carefree, drugged-out party raps that carried 2012’s Habits & Contradictions, and 2014’s Oxymoron quite simply made him into a star. Despite its brisk pace (a half hour shorter than Blank Face), CrasH Talk sags noticeably in its middle section. “CHopstix” is an absolute dumpster fire of a single that combines grotesque bars from Q (“Beat the pussy up, stab at it”) with a historically lazy hook from Travis Scott. The luminous but vacuous “Lies” serves as the album’s obligatory California radio bop, and “Drunk” and “Black Folk” barely register a pulse even as Q tackles weightier issues.
Things pick up, however, on the second half of the album, where Cardo saves the day with a trio of grimy, scraped out beats (“Floating,” “Die With Em,” and “Water”) that tease out Q’s more aggressive side. It sounds as though the detuned piano and fuzzy 808s of “Floating” inspired Q to pop in his grills in the booth. On the infectious jewelry anthem “Water,” he raps, “Gun in my pants, the eagle gon’ sound like the bass/ Fishtailing down the block / Gang tats is all I got / Fly crippin’ never stop” before yielding the microphone to a show-stopping verse from Lil Baby. The youths are already feeling “Water.” It could become an internet juggernaut.
CrasH Talk succeeds in showcasing the breadth of ScHoolboy Q’s comfort zone as a rapper; he feels equally at home on the Cardo-produced bangers, which all sound like the hyena anthem of a hip-hop remake of The Lion King, and creeping, mafioso beats that invite him to flex his storytelling chops, like album finale and standout “Attention.” Here, he casually runs through endorsements of his music by JAY-Z, Dr. Dre, and Nas before launching into a memory—a realization he had years ago, when he and his daughter were caught near a shootout while at the laundromat: “I can finally understand why my uncles was never sober / Deadbeat dad on the gas, that gas my motor / Either grab the mic, nigga, grab the same pistola.” Like Kendrick Lamar on “DUCKWORTH.,” Q points to a single inflection point on which his entire career hinges, and to the narrow line between rap glory and poverty or worse.
Q can still be an incredibly impactful writer when he wants to be, but he picks his moments. Another stunner is “Tales,” in which he raps, “My baby mama paid the bills, I ain’t have shit on the smoke / The homies tell me I’m a burden but never threw me a rope / They left me hanging on the corner, my whole life is my stash / One more strike, I’m with the lifers, split the fifty in half.” It seems that Calabasas Country Club and South Central aren’t so far apart after all.